How can state policy and advocacy groups expand access to skills, credentials and family-supporting careers, particularly for individuals and families facing barriers to economic opportunity? That was the focus of “Skills in the States: A Cross-State Forum for Policy, Advocacy, and Impact,” hosted by the National Skills Coalition in Detroit, Michigan, last week, with financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Company, and the Joyce Foundation.
Along with other representatives from Colorado’s Skills2Compete Coalition (of which the Bell is a founding member), I was fortunate to be among the 100-plus participants from 20 states and the District of Columbia who participated in the forum to share ideas, successes, lessons learned and advice on a broad range of policy approaches related to this goal.
The forum included a variety of breakout sessions for participants to discuss specific skills-related policy and advocacy strategies, including expanding education and training opportunities under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), providing more and better “job-driven” financial aid for students pursuing skills training, strengthening and better connecting state-level workforce-related data systems, and promoting “stackable” postsecondary credentials that build toward higher-level, in-demand certificates and degrees. Several plenary sessions for all attendees offered the opportunity to consider these topics in broader policy context.
Along with attending the sessions, I served as a panelist providing the Colorado perspective in a session on state policies that support “Integrated and Education Training” programs that combine adult literacy and numeracy instruction with postsecondary occupational skills training. Additionally, I served as a peer mentor for a newly formed skills coalition from another state.
As always at these kinds of gatherings, one of the main benefits for participants is being able to talk to, learn from, and share ideas with colleagues from across the country who are working to advance common goals. But at this forum, another key “takeaway” for me served to validate and reinforce the Bell Policy Center’s own approach to expanding family economic opportunity in Colorado. During one of the plenary sessions, the panelists stressed the importance of understanding and working to support the complementary interaction between education and skills policy and other areas of advocacy intended to help all families succeed. Among those specifically highlighted in the discussion were the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), broad state tax policy, paid sick/family leave and other workplace protections, fair credit and lending practices, and the importance of a “two-generation” approach to providing services and supports for families. The Bell Policy Center has, and will continue to, address these issues both individually and collectively as we work to expand opportunity for all Coloradans.
Photo taken by Skills Coalition staff.